Tag Archives: Black Square

These Damned Out-of-Towners

Last night was pretty surprising. I badgered some friends into taking me out to celebrate my five year Army anniversary (wish I could say those flew by…). Being the smooth, culture savvy dudes we are, we made our way down to the always fantastic Downbeat Lounge for beers and bullshit. At the door, we discovered there was actually a show going on. Well, thank my lucky stars. The cover was $10, a rarity for the Lounge. I knew something big was up.

Show Poster

So, what was up? Jesse Wagner of The Aggrolites and Vic Ruggiero of The Slackers were playing! Don’t recognize anything from the previous sentence? Neither did I before last night, but my more ska-oriented friends quickly pushed me into slapping down $10 to find out. It was definitely worth the sum.

Josh86 and the Pressure were opening when we arrived. This is the more reggae/first-wave ska side of the various bands Josh plays in. I had actually never caught this one before last night, but it certainly keeps up with the high standard of awesomeness his other bands have set. Josh also owns the bar and half of the shows these days, so you’re unlikely to hear any negatives out of me.

Jesse Wagner is a guy. A very cool guy who, like Vic, wears a straw hat and knows his way around a guitar. He played a smooth mix of Aggrolites tunes and covers, including a ska version of a Clash song that had the whole crowd ooohing along with him. Speaking of audience participation: Jesse began his set solo on guitar, but each new song seemed to bring another excited fan to the stage to share the backup mic. By the end of his set, there were six drunken belters on the stage and a crowd screaming the words back at them. This is not usually how these out-of-towners do it. Luckily for us, Jesse did.

Vic Ruggiero brought a different show with him. Whereas Jesse is a ska/reggae playing Californian on guitar, Vic is a folksy/bluesy New Yorker with a lovely Long Island accent simultaneously playing guitar, harmonica, drums, and tambourine. Oh, and singing. The kind of coordination this requires for the simplest of songs is beyond me, but these songs were not simple at all. From “Takin’ Care of Business” (No, not the Bachman-Turner Overdrive song; That one has a g) to the Hawaiian-adapted, fifteen minute wildlife screeching story-song “Animals Run the House,” Vic laid down his own beats then danced across his guitar  and waa-waaed his harmonica to them.

Eventually Jesse jumped back on stage for some duo-action. While this seemed fairly impromptu at first, the performance eventually revealed its true nature in the form of a twenty minute medley of nearly every 50’s rock song I can name, all wrapped by a story of one friend warning another of (what else?) a woman. Then, with a twinkle in their eyes, they informed us they would be playing until Josh kicked them out. And, you know what? Like stand-up dudes, they kept their promise.

Want to get your very own Jesse-Vic experience? Well, they’re burning down Breakers as I write this and they will be making a return to Downbeat Lounge tomorrow, Saturday, June 8th, with Black Square. You’d be a sucker to miss it.

As usual, there are plenty of blurry, camera-phone pics at the Flickr (people still use this one, right? There are some still holding out against the Instagram onslaught?). Also, check out the Facebook and Twitter, ’cause, like, whatever. Animals Run the House.

Years End List! (Part 5: The End of the End)

Okay, here it is: the last vestiges of 2011. I hope you’ve enjoyed our run down of the year Spin Magazine called the Great Big No. Here’s to a better 2012!

Top Five Honolulu Shows I Attended

5. Ramblin’ for Raegan: This show was amazing. While we didn’t cover it here at HEP, L did at her own blog. The event was for the charity of Raegan, a five year old girl who tragically lost her father a month prior. Narwhal rocked the house and it was the first time we saw Discord & Rye doing their sexy thing. Ong King is a great space for a show and the art that was up was an excellent time filler between bands.

4. At Sea Returns: At Sea, a post-rock band that had been on hiatus for four years, returned in a big way in July. Supported by the equally awesome “space rock” band Clones of the Queen, they packed thirtyninehotel fuller than any show I’d seen before or have seen since. This was certainly a special performance that I’d have been loathe to miss.

3. Young Fangs Anna’s Show: This show was actually a surprise. We hadn’t seen Narwhal for almost a month and went to hit up their first show back. That show happened to also be the final one in a mini-tour for the Alaskan Indie band Young Fangs. Add Siblings and campfire to the bill and you have yourself an excellent evening.

2. Black Square CD Release Party: If you’ve been keeping up with these lists, then you’d know that I listed Black Square as the fourth best band I heard this year. This show was where that all began. The epic four hour show included sets by Upstanding Youth, Raised By Wolves, Narwhal, and, of course, the China Town powerhouses. It had everything you want in a release party: crazy performances, merch of every variety, dancing, and alcohol. Much alcohol. I think my body was running on beer alone since I sweated all the water out in the mosh pit that opened up.

1. Halloween Party at White Tiger Lounge/Orphanage/Dollhouse: Before October 30, 2011, I thought I knew what a house show was. On that night, however, everything I had ever attended before began to look like Uncle Fred with a guitar at the family reunion. Siblings and Narwhal turned a quaint living room into a battleground full of screaming, jumping, moshing characters in various stages of costume. The brightest moment for me was actually captured on tape by Travis. “Tell Me” is, bar none, my favorite song to hear live. We did it harder and crazier than we ever will again. Having this much fun should be illegal.


Well, that’s it folks. Thank you for a wonderful 2011. Let’s all hope the world doesn’t end before we can do more of these lists next year!

Year End List! (Part 2)

Congratulations, it’s January 2nd, 2012! Here’s another list:

Top Five Bands Kendle Listened to For the First Time

5. Black Lips: I first heard this Atlanta, GA based garage rock band on the Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World soundtrack. Little did I know that “O Katrina!“, despite it’s snappy buzz, was fairly tame as compared to the drug-fueled decadence that was the rest of 500 Million Thousand. And I loved every minute of it. Good, Bad, Not Evil, their previous, more critically acclaimed album, was fueled by more of surf rock sound, though still tinged with the dirty, DIY, sound that made them authorities on the garage rock scene in “New Garage Explosion!“.

4. Black SquareJosh86 is a pillar in Chi-To culture, and his band Black Square is one of the scene’s best bands. Their solid ska-punk sound is always exciting and their wonderful stage presence makes sitting on the sidelines near impossible. Every show, they rock out like they’re playing their biggest, whether to ten people or a hundred, and that energy is damned infectious. We’ve blogged about Black Square on a few occasions, but no amount of praise can overstate their quality as musicians and performers. And, after ten mainland tours, two compilations, and four albums, that quality can only continue to bring them more well-deserved success.

3. The Black Keys: Even before their 2010 release of  Brothers, this Akron, OH band was everywhere. Movies, commercials, and radio stations of every stripe have all bought into the blues rock duo. Normally, the hipster in me would want to eschew them for this rampant commercialization but, honestly, their music is just too f’in good. I picked up the aforementioned Brothers a few months ago and am constantly impressed by how pop-catchy they can make songs that are best suited for a dingy, smoke-filled bar where real men shoot whiskey and the mob has a stake. To get a taste, check out “Tighten Up” and “Next Girl“.

2. Mumford & Sons: The first band on this list not of a ‘black’ variety is also the best Americana band that isn’t American. Following their 2010 success of Sigh No More, this four person British group led by the titular Marcus Mumford were 2011’s counterpoint to the electronic domination of dubstep, making sometimes rambunctious, and always lovely, music involving accordions, mandolins, and dobros. Their songs are deep, meaningful, and, really, honest, capturing the everyman’s sense of love and pain. My personal favorite is certainly “Winter Winds

1. (G)NARWHAL: 2011, above all else, was the year I went from a hapless young soldier wandering around Waikiki to blogging about Honolulu happenings. The catalyst? A band named Narwhal. The three-piece’s crazy shows put me on a scavenger hunt around China Town and the greater Honolulu area, introduced me to many wonderful people I now count as friends, and, most obviously, gave me something to do on almost every night of the week (Sunday’s a total wash, though).

With an original sound that has elements of surf, punk, and old school rock and roll, (G)Narwhal (I think they’re in the process of picking up the ‘G’) has had great year. They celebrated their banniversary in May, recorded and released their second EP, Phases, in November, and had a successful mini-tour in San Francisco that same month. Their performances have consistently one-upped themselves, from the original “Lies” to “Tell Me” list with a handful of us bobbing in the front to the raging moshes that now erupt on the first song of their sets. Erica has improved as a vocalist, now utilizing much more of her range, as well as her stage presence. Nick has refined his guitar work into the now recognizable ‘Nick Ayakawa‘ style, proving that he is one of the scene’s best guitarists. And Adam, a drummer who’s speed and endurance were already a thing to admire, has provided a vivid backdrop in all of their new songs for his comrades to enliven with melody.

Besides their improvements as individuals, (G)Narwhal has really come together as a band. Instead of sitting on their hands and being content to play the same Cow Belly songs every other week or so, they spent much of 2011 writing new material, practicing, and playing shows often. Their chemistry has never been better and they are truly on the up.

So, here’s to you, (G)Narwhal. You were my favorite new band of the year 2011. Let’s all hope that 2012 can see you continue your rise to the top.

Upstanding Youth and the Frozen Tundra of HEP

So, here are are again, almost a month with no updates at HEP. I would love to say that we’ve been far too busy with shows and raucous evenings to get around to posting, but that would be a lie. Instead, you get excuses about the self-imposed exile of NaNoWriMo (we didn’t win, by the way, but making it to 30,000 words was a small victory) and being poor.

In fact, the last show we attending was the Upstanding Youth 10 year anniversary on November 19th. We were only there for a few hours, however, as words were to be written on our novels. Even still, we caught all of Black Square‘s and Hell Camino‘s sets and half of the headliner’s.

Hell Camino played  slower and more honky tonk than I would have thought possible, obviously trying to play to the ska sound of the night. It was still great, however, and was really cool to see them work outside of the norm. They did still throw down a couple of psychobilly songs, however, which got our blood flowing.

Black Square were awesome as always. I’m not sure how many times I’ve listened to their latest CD, but I literally cannot stay seated when they play their golden songs (which are all of them, of course). My friends and I made our way through the fifty or so people who has amassed during the band’s first song (“In The Day,” if memory serves) and found that there was a lot of skanking going on in the front. Like, more than I had ever seen for this band, even at their own monthly headliner “Black Saturday.” We, of course, quickly joined in. The best moment of this set (and probably the whole show) was when they had steamrolled into a high energy song (“Slow Down” or “Black Square” stand out in my hazy memory) and all of us up front managed to look up at T. R. at the same moment. From the stage, he looked down at us very seriously and held up one hand, his index finger making a small circle. Instantly, the dancing devolved into a roaring mosh of twelve or so people jumping, tumbling, and smashing our way around the stage. I caught a glimpse of T. R.’s face wearing a smirk as he went back to playing.

The last bit of the show we caught was Upstanding Youth, the now 10 year old band. Before they went on, someone introduced them as the “best ska band of all time,” an extremely tall order that I don’t really agree with. To me, they were a pretty decent ska band, but, honestly, fairly vanilla. I am by no means an authority of the genre, however.

Really, after more than a year kicking around China Town and seeing many talented bands barely scraping twenty people out for a show, I was somewhat upset to see a hundred people flood into Anna’s for this set only. I recognized no one in this new crowd and it seems most of them had eschewed the previous two performances, despite their quality. As far as I can tell, Upstanding Youth had pulled a huge crowd from another scene (I guessed Waikiki, but that was a hunch) into the bar that I have only gone to see “Chi-To bands” perform at. Perhaps I am being too scene-insular.

NOTE: In this next breakdown paragraph, I’m going to only talk about what I heard at the UY show. I’ve since listened to their recorded stuff and found it to be quite different.

To give a fair shake to the band, they were good. Whereas I generally like punk with my ska, Upstanding Youth were straight ska with a side of pop. I can see how the band has become quite popular on Oahu as they have incorporated many of what I would consider to be ‘traditional Hawaiian’ sounds into their slow to mid-tempo songs. It was more music to groove than dance to. Except for a few brave souls, the farthest anyone in the crowd got to moving was a small sway or head bob. There isn’t anything wrong with that, of course, but it was hard for me to chill out after Black Square had shocked me into action.

That was really my issue with Upstanding Youth, the proclaimed “best ska band of all time”: Black Square was just generally more enjoyable. My quick and unscientific poll of the people I knew at the show confirmed my thoughts; You have to be a great band to follow Black Square. And Upstanding Youth, to me, was not great, but good at best.

Feel free to comment/argue with me in the comments, on our Facebook, or Twitter. Also, czech out some blurry cell phone photos on Flickr. I swear we’ll get a decent camera some day.

P.S.: Tomorrow night (9pm) there is a sweet show going on at Mercury. $5 for 5 bands, including the HEP favs Gnarwal, Coral Stabz, and The Substitoots. Not sure if we’ll make it, but totes buy us a beer if we do. We could use the booze.

What’s the Haps, HEPs?

Well, the self imposed exile that is NaNoWriMo continues for us here at HEP. Luckily for you other people, there are some awesome looking shows coming up this weekend and beyond!

First up, Josh86 and JetSetter Productions are throwing a special Friday edition of The Clampdown featuring 2face4, 13th Legion, campfire, and The Deliberates. I’ve not seen any of these bands save campfire, but, if the word on the street is anything, Anna Banana’s is the place to be tomorrow, Friday 11th, at 9pm. $5 cover, as usual.

Then, on Saturday at 9pm, Black Saturday will be rocking hard at The Venue. This second-Saturday-of-every-month show is always great fun (and was actually one of the first shows I ever attended in Hawaii, almost a year ago). November’s iteration includes my psychobilly love The Hell Caminos, the folk-indie-acoustic-hunky Discord & Rye (L: swoon), ska-reggae The Blue Ribbons, and, as always, the amazing talent of The Black Square. Not sure what the cover is, but I do believe they run a special on Mickey’s grenades for $2.

If a DJ is more your tune this weekend, check out thirtyninehotel for Luca Bacchetti, an internationally acclaimed artist making his impression on the island. These shows usually come with a steep cover, so be ready.

Finally, At Sea is going to affect Anna’s on Tuesday, the 15th. The amazing post-rock band was featured in a previous post and this will be our first outing to see them since. Backing up the musical emotion are Makua Valley Blast Test and Moon Occults the Sun, two other experimental bands. Get there early to set your mind in the mood with a few drinks. Cover is probably $5.

That’ll do it for shows up through Tuesday. We’re following some awesome shows next week, but we’ll talk about those more then! In the mean time, keep us informed through Facebook, Twitter, and email.

Keep rocking, Honolulu.

HEPpy Halloween!

Okay, okay, so it’s not Halloween anymore, but it was a crazy weekend for us here at HEP. Hope you all had fun with your costumes and candy.

On Saturday night, we took the plunge into Hallowbaloo, the three-day Honolulu music festival. In short, it was barely controlled insanity. Three or four blocks of Chi-To were gated off, numerous stages erected, several food trucks parked, and thousands of costumed partiers were beer’d. The costumes ranged from several hula lamps and Hunter S. Thompsons to two Deviled Eggs (literally two fried eggs made of cardboard worn by horned red-people). Sadly, us HEPsters were a little late to enjoy any of the live entertainment (including a reportedly amazing performance from Cherry Blossom Cabaret), but we did manage to scoot into 39Hotel for some PBR’s and, eventually, spill into The Venue for a show by Black Square and Kings of Spade! Overall, Hallowbaloo was pretty fun, though the crowd was more of a crush than a background and the lines were quite long for everything (we didn’t even get into Bar35 due to the thirty minute to one hour wait).

After a few hangover remedies, we were back in Honolulu Sunday night for a show and party at Orphanage. This old mansion (formally known as the Dollhouse) is an amazing treasure hidden in the northern hills of Honolulu and occupied by a 90’s sitcom worth of characters. The venue for the night was actually the living room (or “White Tiger Lounge” as they call it) which we managed to pack forty or so screaming, costumed people into. Coral Stabz started out the night in celebration of their new album release (stealin’ pakalolo), though we were late due to the horrendous H1 traffic and missed what I was told was an epic performance. Haven’t had a chance to listen to the tape yet, but I’m sure it’s amazing as well.

We did arrive in time to rock out to Siblings, who were all dressed up as bicycle missionaries from the Church of Siblings of Radder-Day Saints. The mosh basically spilled into the band at this point and, more than once, Joey Green found himself at the back of the crowd, his microphone cord wrapped around his neck like a whip, drawing him back to the front. As the songs raged on and the band/crowd mixture shook the room, the temperature spiked, cooking us until the floor was slick with sweat. It is at this point I will remind you this took place in a living room.

After a booze, water, smoke, and air break (in that order), (G)Narwhal fired up their set. This was now three hours into the drinking and over an hour into the concert and where there was moshing for the punk of Siblings, there is pure insanity for Narwhal. People are attempting to crowd surf, only to smash their heads into the ceiling and fall onto the couch, wrapped up like a mummy in the overhead decorations. Travis of Coral Stabz has covered himself in fake blood and is using it to zombify everyone around him. Someone has taken Adam’s extra drumstick and is smashing additional cymbals to his beat. Not one, not two, not three, but four “last songs” are played. The actual last “last song,” my personal favorite “Tell Me,” is sung mostly by the crowd as Erica’s microphone cord has been disconnected by several feet and she is frantically chasing the end around, ensnaring it just in time to belt the chorus and then lose it again. This is the best show of their’s that I have ever seen.

Sadly, we had to leave shortly after this. We did score a few amazing cupcakes, a copy of the new Coral Stabz tape, and many promises that Adam would get us our fancy new GNARWHAL pins. If the Facebook photos are any evidence, the party lost no steam without us. Thanks for a great night, you crazy, costumed party animals.

P.S.: It appears L has grown impatient with this long post and already posted about our November adventure in NaNoWriMo. I assure you we will not ignore HEP, though we expect to spend more nights in, replacing the crush of the bar with the comfort of a couch while we write. Expect to continue seeing updates about upcoming events, however. We wouldn’t abandon you…

P.P.S: There are a few photos up on the Flickr, but the majority of the weekend was shot using good old fashioned disposable cameras! That said, we should be rolling out those photos next week. For now, content yourself with some amazing shots over at everyday is a wishing well.

Black Square CD Release Party @ Anna’s

I just returned from the Black Square CD release party and all I can say is wow. This was quite possibly one of the best shows I’ve yet seen on island.

We arrived just as Upstanding Youth  was getting heavy into their set. Perhaps it was my focus on hellos and getting beers in me, but they faded to the background until the final two songs. By then, I had zeroed in on the music and found it to be a light, woodsy blend. They could very easily play in any setting, which I feel is a huge advantage in this town. I could use a few more listens before settling into any deep opinions, though.

Next was Raised by Wolves (or, as we often put it, Something About Wolves). I’ve seen these two indie-turned-folk/country gentlemen a few times before, but these meetings are too few and too far between. Tonight they were in rare form, often ad-libbing names from the crowd in with great effect. Their heavy, sort-of-honkey-tonk, sort-of-indie rock came out in every heart straining, glass raising lyric and the inclusion of a few guest singers (here’s to you, John Ridgeway) only amplified the singer’s amazing vocal talent. Their drinking song, Hair of the Dog, had every person in the bar singing along, and their heart-felt How Low Can You Go brought the pained howls of a hundred depressed moments. Finally deciding on the bass-kick pedal arrangement in lieu of the singer/guitarist stomping on bare stage will undoubtedly extend this slow-fiddle/rhythmic guitar duo’s longevity. And thankfully, for I could listen to these folk’s music every night.

After that, HEP favorite Narwhal was up. Now, the double-guitar-and-drum three piece had set up a brutal schedule for this weekend. This show was actually their second of the night, as they had rocked out at an art show at Mercury Bar just half an hour before arriving at Anna Banana’s. If they were tired, however, it didn’t show in the playing at all. They were fast and tight, as is their signature, and any tiny misstep was easily covered up by the other members. The biggest problem came in the form of the always-too-quiet microphone Erica was attempting to shriek through. This issue, however, enhanced the overall performance for me, though, as I witnessed a band not only hold but enthuse a crowd without the thing that first attracted me to them: the witty lyrics and harsh vocals. A small, friendly pit opened up and the almost instrumental songs kept everything moving for their full setlist (which included a song written a mere day before) and the demanded encore. Narwhal, you once again have proven why I love you.

Now was the time, however. Black Square, the big man on campus for this event, took the stage and I was happy to see their reportedly departed trombone player (who had recorded with them for the CD this party was all about) was there sporting a brand new wedding ring (congrats guys, if you should read this). They got right into it and it was a fight to maintain a front spot as they spread their ska loveliness across the room. It was loud, tight, and (even at the end of a night of dancing) invigorating. While I was fairly winded at the end of Narwhal, there was literally not one inch of my clothing not drenched  halfway through Square’s epically long setlist. All of the fan favorites were played, shoutouts and thanks given, solos granted, and, best of all, a crowd that was more than willing to show their appreciation by going nuts. Not that there was any danger beyond the random errant elbow or accidental headbutt; all people who slipped on concrete floor covered in beer were caught before they hit the ground and brought up to rejoin the fray immediately (this includes yours truly who is eternally grateful).

To share my honest opinion, Black Square can mix it up with any national level punk-ska band today. The lyrics are inventive, the guitar is simultaneously rhythmic and interesting, the brass lifts up the sound instead of bogging it down, and the drummer throws down fills on a whim I would have to practice for weeks. At the time of this writing I still have not listened to the CD release (ears are still ringing), but, if their live shows are any indication of the end result, I am sure this will be a breakout moment for a truly stand-up band. And, to be honest once more, Josh (lead singer and guitarist) deserves to reap the rewards for the hard work he has put into this scene.

If it’s worth anything, I raise my glass to you, buddy, and all those who make this small culture what it is. You deserve all the praise in the world, though you also easily deserve the $10 I traded for the album. I know I’m gonna love it.

Thanks: Anna Banana crew (especially Michael, you always give me great joy and beer), all the bands, Emily of Downbeat fame, and my two friends who decided to come along on a work day. All of you made this a night I will remember for years to come.